Haleigh Crnkovich did everything she could Friday night to make sure Rocky Mountain College started Frontier Conference play on a good note.
The hustling 5-foot-5 junior guard from Big Timber scored 12 of her team-high 14 points in the second half and helped the No. 24-ranked Battlin’ Bears rally from an 11-point deficit in the last five minutes to beat Carroll College 56-52 in a thrilling women’s basketball contest.
“To win our first conference game, and against Carroll, it couldn’t be any sweeter,” Crnkovich said with a big smile afterward.
The Bears, who struggled with their shooting and rebounding for most of the night, didn’t take their first lead until 1:30 remained to be played.
“It was pretty quiet in the gym before then,” said Crnkovich, who was a standout on both ends of the court with the game on the line.
In the equally exciting nightcap, Carroll’s men shot 55 percent from the field and knocked down 10 3-pointers in outlasting Rocky 72-69 on First Interstate Bank Court at Fortin Center.
The Saints, who worked the ball around well for open shots, shot 59 percent in the first half and were up by as many as 11 points with eight minutes to go.
“Anytime you let a good shooting team get in a rhythm offensively, they look like a machine out there,” Rocky coach Bill Dreikosen said of Carroll. “We did not do a good job defensively in the first half.
“In the second half, when our defense did step up at times, then we couldn’t make shots.”
Down by three in the closing seconds, Rocky’s 6-foot guard Doundrekyc Parham tried to put up a 3-pointer over Carroll’s 6-5 Andy Garland, but the shot from near the top of the key was deflected and fell harmlessly to the court.
Carroll men 72,
The Saints, 1-0 and 8-5, led 65-54 with 8:07 to go, but Rocky, 0-1 and 7-9, tightened the gap with back-to-back threes by Kurtis Parsons and Darryl Alexander.
Carroll was still in charge 71-62 with 3:05 remaining before the speedy Parham, who finished with 14 points, made things interesting.
He had six points in the final 2:07, including a driving basket that made it 72-69 with 56.4 seconds to play.
With the shot clock about to expire on the other end, Garland missed a 3-pointer for the Saints and Rocky’s Sergio Trocha snared his 12th rebound with 17.3 seconds left.
But Rocky struggled to get an open look, leaving Parham to try to force up a shot over Garland to no avail.
Carroll nailed two 3-pointers late in the first half to lead 42-38 at intermission. The Saints buried three more threes in the first five minutes of the second half to move ahead 55-45 and never trailed.
“I just think our guys are playing with a lot of poise,” Carroll coach Brandon Veltri said. “They’re really executing at a high level right now. They’re working to get a great shot, not just a good shot.”
Ben Cutler led Carroll with 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Garland had 13 points and Tony Dalton 12.
The Saints were playing short-handed after four players, including two starters, were declared academically ineligible by the school earlier in the week.
"I think it says a lot about the character of the players we have," Veltri said of the situation. "We've got 10 guys on the roster that we're going to go with for the rest of the season ... they're a focused group right now. They all know that their number is going to be called.
"There's no wondering whether or not coach is going to play them tonight, because he is."
Alexander also had 14 points for the Bears. Parsons wound up with 12 and Matt Fogarty 11.
Rocky women 56,
The Bears, 1-0 and 12-4, fell behind 46-35 with 5:26 to play before going on a 16-3 tear to take their first lead at 51-49 with 1:30 left to play.
“The girls just stayed with it and they just persevered,” Rocky coach Brian Henderson said. “There’s a lot of things we didn’t do all that great. But the one thing we did a great job of is not giving up.”
Crnkovich started the run by swishing a 3-pointer from the wing, and she closed it out by making two free throws to give Rocky its first lead at 51-49 with 1:30 remaining to play.
Her seven points helped highlight that crucial stretch. Austin Hanser also drilled a pivotal three and Callie Eike was in on a three-point play.
“That last five minutes we actually played with the enthusiasm that we needed,” Crnkovich said.
Rocky’s pressure defense and free throw shooting also played a big role in the end, but Carroll, 0-1 and 7-7, refused to concede.
A 3-pointer by Jackie Mee from the top of the key put the Saints on top 52-51 with 1:00 to go.
The Bears, though, went ahead for keeps when Alli Blake was fouled under the basket and her two free throws made it 53-52 with 44 seconds left.
Moments later, Blake, quickly fouled after Hanser rebounded a missed Carroll free throw, made two more foul shots with 24.9 seconds remaining to give Rocky some breathing room at 55-52.
With time running out, Carroll’s Torrie Cahill missed a shot from just inside the 3-point line. The Saints got the rebound, but then lost the ball.
Blake added another free throw to make the final margin 56-52. She finished with 13 points and nine rebounds.
Eike contributed 10 points.
Jeni Guertin led Carroll with 15. Alysha Green added 13, 10 of them coming in the first half.
It was Crnkovich who clamped down on Green.
“I thought Haleigh did an outstanding defensive job,” Henderson said. “What she did on top of that, though, was give people a glimpse of her offense tonight, too.”